Core training has been a buzz word for a number of years and was definitely an area that I focused on during my time as a personal trainer. In more recent years I have come to realize that our obsession with “core training” was probably a little misguided. What I came to realize was that every exercise when done correctly calls on our core to stabilize and provide a base for us to generate movement and power. What athletes should focus on is training that is both sport specific and general enough to provide the body with a balance of exercise input (too much of one movement increases the likelihood of repetitive strain injuries).
The core is defined as the axial skeleton and all the soft tissue that insert on the axial skeleton proximally. It is the base with which our appendages attach and produce power from. It is incredibly important but is our training of it mis-guided?
A nice quote from Saveyouself.com: “The word “core” seems to suggest something fundamental, foundational — it has a confidence-inspiring connotation.” It makes us feel good to work the “core” because we feel it has such power.
If you really want to train the core do uni-lateral (one sided) weighted exercises, deadlifts, and front squats. These exercises require an immense amount of core stiffness and incorporate all parts of the body.
Won’t it prevent me from injuring my back?
For many years clients suffering with low back pain were given core exercises to help improve their health. We now know that targeted core training is no better than general exercise when treating low back pain. Knowing this there is still a place for movement therapy when someone injuries their back. Pain free motion improves the health of tissues, increases confidence and dampens down ramped up nervous systems. In the past, results seen from core training protocols, were more likely due to the afore mentioned benefits of movement and not increases in core strength.
Sport specific demands
Squash requires an incredible combination of speed and balance. To many people core and balance are synonymous, a strong core equals good balance. I question this logic because of the SAID principle: specific adaptations to imposed demands. To get good at lunging, balancing, and hitting a squash ball at high speed you actually to need to break the skill down into component parts to get better at. My doing more planks and sit ups, you will most definitely get better at planks and sit ups but you will not get better at hitting a squash ball.
To improve balance for squash
– work on dynamic lunges: progress from static, to bounding, to jumping
– do ghosting drills: start slow and perfect the movement and gradually increase speed and repetitions over time
– improve mobility: your balance could be affected by poorly moving joints. Practice yoga or implement stretch movements that mimic on court movements
– reduce fatigue: as your endurance begins to falter, so will your balance. Improve you cardio by playing more squash and incorporating long, slow runs and interval training.
To improve strength
– Strengthen opposing muscles and do uni-lateral exercises: focus on movements and strength exercises that single out one side of the body. This will help to balance the body from the repetitive nature of squash. It may not completely reduce your chances of a repetitive stress injury but it will provide novel input and a reduction in stress.
– Yoga or movement drills: incorporate movements that strengthen the shoulders and mobilize the hips. This will result in more fluid motion on the court and better shoulder stability
– think about what part of the training cycle you are in:
Off Season: you can work on more heavy lifting (squats and deadlifts require strength from the core, upper body, and lower body). Work out any injuries and consult with a physio to identify any imbalances within the body
In Season: maintenance – for variety do light strength sessions, regular yoga and movement practice, long slow runs, and on-court drilling.
Although it is great that more people are becoming pro-active and adding extra training sessions to their week outside of squash I think more often then not the training is mid-guided. “Core exercises” alone will not improve your balance or your squash game. To improve your game try to incorporate movements and exercises that are more specific to squash. To improve your health do movements that are novel or different from squash to provide your body with a balanced approached to training. I hope this post activates some discussion around core training and its benefits for squash.
Steiger et al. Is a positive clinical outcome after exercise therapy for chronic non-specific low back pain contingent upon a corresponding improvement in the targeted aspect(s) of performance? A systematic review. European Spine Journal. 2011
More Fragility of core Stability: http://www.bodyinmind.org/more-fragility-in-core-stability/
Macedo et al. Motor Control Exercise for Persistent, Nonspecific Low Back Pain: A Systematic Review. Physical Therapy. 2008.
Low Back Tutorial: http://saveyourself.ca/tutorials/low-back-pain.php (I actually purchased the entire version and it was very useful)